photo by Eden Keller of Mechanicsburg
Brian:You've got to think for your selves! You're ALL individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
Man in crowd: I'm not...
The Crowd: Shhhhhh!
While I am hardly what one would call an extreme individualist, there are some ways in which I struggle with a rebellion against conformity.
Top Gun? I've never seen it, and I can't bring myself to, simply because of its popularity and buzz among my generation.
The Atlanta Braves? I loved rooting for them when nobody cared about them, but once they become a national craze, it was harder to stomach calling myself a fan. (Not such a problem anymore, but I also don't really follow MLB anymore.)
Harry Potter? The Hunger Games? Part of the reason I've never read either series is simply -- and childishly! -- because I can't bear the thought of following in the crowd's wake.
I recognize the pettiness of all this, and I recognize that sometimes I am probably robbing myself of some things I would actually enjoy. Pop culture, though, is only the gentlest way in which this impacts my life. It impacts me in other ways, too.
For instance, my writing.
I like the fact that my genre, psychological suspense, is a bit of a borderland, and while I hope for success for myself and my fellow writers, another part of me dreads a day when perhaps the market will be saturated with psychological suspense authors. I have entire TV shows scripts I've abandoned once I ran across a project someone else was working on that was remotely similar. There was some talk about True Grit's success opening up doors for western fiction. Good for me, since I want to write some western fiction, but I'll confess to a dark sort of relief that such did not happen because I want my western fiction (when and if I write it) to be accepted on its own, not because it's part of a trend.
Most pernicious, though, are the little things. Little, tiny voices that creep in while I'm actually engaged in writing. And they sound so noble. So very noble. It's hard to put up a proper defense against them.
I've learned how to be brave in my writing in many ways, but the one thing I still shirk in fear from is conformity.
I have literally, no exaggeration done the following in recent writing projects:
- Changed my entire plan for a character because I didn't want to be "another" writer who throws twist after twist into my books.
- Taken out entire scenes because I didn't want to be "another" writer who packs violent action into his thrillers.
- Fretted over the course of a plot simply because I was afraid it might be too predictable.
Those all sound like fine things in their own way. Even as I write them here, I find myself thinking, "Good call, taking action on those, Nevets."
But none of those things are more important than the narrative. If the narrative ends up violent, so be it. If the narrative ends up twisty, so be it. If the narrative ends up predictable, so be it. Perhaps the damage of things things might be muted in other ways. But the story is the story.
I can't be the guy who sits there saying, "Nope, I'm the one person who's not different," out of simple defiance. I'm not a four year-old. I need to not act like one. No, it's not good to simply go with the crowd. No, it's also not good to simply go against the crowd. Sometimes, you're just being silly.
But I'm still not sure I can bring myself to watch Top Gun.